No proof that Vatican bones are St Paul's, says Dutch expert
Jun 29, 2009, 16:28 GMT
Dresden, Germany - Responding to the claim by Pope Benedict XVI that the bones of St Paul have been found in Rome, a Dutch expert, Rengert Elburg, said Monday this can never be proven.
Elburg, an expert on archaeological study of old bones and organic remains for the government of the German state of Saxony, told the German Press Agency dpa in an interview, 'It's impossible to establish that it's him.'
Even a genetic analysis of the bones in a sarcophagus marked as Paul's would reveal nothing, because there were no proven descendants whose DNA could be compared.
'But the bones could tell you the sex and age of death of the person,' he said. A face could be reconstructed if a skull were in the grave. 'But we don't know how Paul looked, so that doesn't help identify the body,' he said.
Elburg said scientists were likely to check for links to the historical account of the beheading of St Paul, the author of copious letters and first interpreter of Christianity.
'Traces of beheading can be identified with absolute certainty,' he said.
The cut was usually found between the third and fourth vertebrae.
Elburg counselled maximum precision in opening the sarcophagus, saying, 'It will be comparable to opening the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh.' Fabric in a coffin could fall apart at a touch.
He said dry, outside air would not damage fabric or the bones. The presence of any clothing was likely to depend on whether the sarcophagus had been hermetically sealed for 20 centuries.
'Roman fabrics in the time of St Paul were of very high quality. They had wool, linen and even silk,' he said.
The pagan Romans embalmed their bodies, but Christians did not, he added. 'Doubtless nothing like that was done with this early Christian person,' he said.
The Pope said Sunday that a probe through a tiny hole in the sarcophagus at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Wall proved they contained remains from the time of Christ.